Creating User Personas prior to a website redesign.

What is a User Persona?

User Persona is a hypothetical archetype of an actual user profile according to their expectations, needs, goals, and observed behaviour patterns.

Credit: Hacker Noon

Should you create User Personas before you invest in your website?

Whether you’re thinking about a website redesign or a new application, you’ll want to start by really getting to know who you’re building it for. (Heads-up, it isn’t for you, or your CEO).

Knowing your audience will help you to create something that will delight them and make it easy for them to do business with you. Once you discover your audiences’ preferences, needs and goals, you’ll have greater insights as to how you can meet their needs, increasing the chances of a positive return on your investment.

User Personas aren’t essential for a website redesign, but done right, they will help you to send the right message to the right people, and help your designer to stay focused on your customers and their needs.

Traditional Personas vs UX Personas

In this article, we’ll walk through the steps used to create a ‘traditional’ User Persona, and explain the new, goal-centred approach favoured by User Experience professionals.

Who are you creating a website for?

Who is that you want to attract (or retain) as a customer? Business owners and organisations often tell me that everyone is their potential customer, and that may be true, but what we’re also looking for is a way to define your perfect customer.

If you target everyone, you’re targeting no-one.

Think about the best client you have ever had, or your most loyal customer. What was it about them that made them such a good fit for your organisation? What would happen if you could clone them? What impact would that have? The more you know and understand your perfect customer, the greater the chances are that you will be able to put yourself in front of more of the same.

Where to find information about your customers (users).

Unless you’re a start-up or in the early stages of a new business venture, chances are you already know a fair bit about your customers. This is good, but can also be a hindrance. Making assumptions based on what we think we know can be a slippery slope, although not a terrible place to start if that’s all you have.

Here are a few places you can look if you need to gather information about your customers:

In-house – start brainstorming

A brainstorming session is a great starting point, especially if you can get plenty of stakeholders on-board. The worst thing you can do here is leave this up to the marketing department. More people = more points of view. Your organisations’ people will know more about your customers than you might think, especially your customer-facing staff, who likely spend the most time with them.

Consider what you already know about the people who use your website. You’ll probably be making some assumptions here, but just get started. You can use a spreadsheet or whiteboard to collate anything you know about the people you serve. This might include information such as how old they are, where in the world they live, what they do in their spare time/hobbies, income bracket, education level, pain points, attitudes and where they hang out online.

Social Media

Check the social profiles of your followers (in a very non-creepy way). Spend some time reading the questions and comments your follows have posted on your social channels. How do they feel about your organisation, your product or service?

Website analytics

Assuming you have Google Analytics installed and tracking on your current website, you’ll be able to find geographic, demographic, psychographic and behavioural insights via your Google Analytics account. If you have enabled advertising features in your account, you’ll get access to even more data.

Interviews & surveys

If you can, talk to your customer base. Interviewing or sending surveys to your existing clientele will provide solid insights as to what they think and need, and what their expectations and pain-points are in relation to the product or service that you offer. You can also hold focus groups, either online or in person.

Creating User Personas.

Keep in mind, user personas are essentially just example profiles that you can use to better understand and later remind yourself of your customers. They don’t depict the needs and interests of every one of them, rather a general representation from a single point in time.

What we want to discover, is a solid understanding of their goals, concerns, circumstances and influences.

The more you know about your target audience, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to create a great experience for them. A good experience for your customers, can only result in good things for your business.

The traditional approach to User Personas

After you’ve collated all the information you have about your customers, start to organise it. Look for groups of data that you can segment. List any demographic data you have found.

This could include the answers to questions such as:

  • What age bracket are your customers?
  • Where in the world do they live?
  • How much do they earn?
  • Are they male or female?
  • Are they married?
  • Do they have children?

Slightly trickier, but next, explore their beliefs, goals and personality traits. Can you discover:  

  • What motivates them?
  • What do they dream about?
  • What do they aspire to be?
  • What keeps them up at night?
  • What makes them happy?
  • How do they feel about themselves?
  • What or who influences them?

When creating a traditional persona, the next step would be to give your User Persona a name and a photo. Someone would create a trendy infographic poster that pulls all this information together and the theory is that all decisions going forward would be made with ‘Made-up Mike’ at the front of mind.

There are a few problems with this approach.

  1. Not everyone in your organisation will understand it – you’ll need to educate your stakeholders and staff as to why the exercise was carried out and how the Persona’s will help them do their job.
  2. Getting everyone on-board can be challenging, especially if the Personas were created in isolation within the organisation.
  3. The result isn’t specific enough. At best an over-simplified Persona will help you run ads targeting the right age group on Facebook, at worst, you’ll end up back where you started, targeting no-one, because you’re targeting everyone.
  4. No one asked the customer what they actually wanted to do, or how they felt about what your were trying to sell to them or how you were trying to engage them.

The New User Persona

The New User Persona adds another dimension, encouraging us to be more specific in helping our customers find the answer to their problem. The New User Persona is goal-based.

This additional step will explore your customers feelings and thoughts in direct relation to your product or service. We want to define their relationship with your business and discover what they want from us as business owners/organisations.

  • How do your users feel about the product or service that you offer?
  • What problem do you solve for them?
  • What frustrates them about your product or service?
  • What can you do to gain their trust?
  • What’s the one thing that they want you to do for them?
  • How can you make their life better / save them time / give them better value?
  • What are they coming to your website for?
  • What’s the task or ‘job to be done’?
  • What’s their ultimate goal today?
  • What led them to your website in the first place?

You can see how this approach will help you get more from your User Persona when it comes to getting your hands on useful knowledge that will help you through the decision making progress around a website redesign. A little specificity goes a long way. By digging a little deeper you can start to uncover insights that are more directly related to your product or service offering, and then use what you know to start to overcome the pain-points and frustrations that your customers are experiencing when it comes to interacting and ultimately doing business with your organisation.

UX focussed empathy map
User Experience Empathy Map

Which Persona is best?

The internet is awash with friendly debate about whether User Personas are a waste of time or still an essential part of any marketing kit.

Love them or loathe them, I’m of the opinion that User Personas still have a place in helping us understand your customers, especially when you combine the traditional approach with the newer, goal-orientated one.

In some cases, there might be an alternative exercise that would be a better use of your time, but any research is always better than none and as always, the secret to getting ahead is getting started!


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